Bedroom Tax- Coventry Council denies tenants a right of appeal

MAJOR UPDATE 7.50PM  below- As Coventry Councillor still maintain no right of appeal !! Oh dear !!

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Original post

I have been sent another Council letter over the weekend about a Council acting unlawfully over the bedroom tax and this time it’s from Coventry City Council. The letter says:

YOU ARE UNABLE TO APPEAL AGAINST THIS DECISION

Every tenant is a claimant and has the absolute right to appeal any Housing Benefit decision such as the bedroom tax yet Coventry City Council have been denying that right to tenants in the city.

HOW MANY VULNERABLE TENANTS IN COVENTRY HAVE BELIEVED THE COUNCIL AND NOT APPEALED THE BEDROOM TAX?

This is an outrage and Coventry City Council needs to act on this unlawful letter.  Like every Council an appeal costs them money to investigate or review the decision and again to defend at appeal. In giving out this patently erroneous information that the bedroom tax decision does not carry a right of appeal then like other Councils who have adopted this unlawful strategy of misinformation many tenants will not have appealed and may have missed the deadline for an ‘in-time’ appeal.

Coventry needs to correct this letter publicly and apologise and like Liverpool City Council has done extend the date for an appeal so that those tenants who wish to appeal are not disadvantaged by having their appeal deemed ‘out-of-time’ by this misinformation the Council has sent out.

Every tenant that has appealed or has been dissuaded from appealing should add to their appeal letters and include this information so that the tribunal does not simply dismiss any appeals as ‘out-of-time.’

What Coventry City Council has done and now has to do is cost itself more money as their unlawful actions may well see more people appealing than they originally thought and the more that do the greater cost this will give to the Council – a greater cost that the Council deserves because of this unlawful letter which seeks to deny (deliberately?) the claimants absolute right to appeal.

coventry bedroom tax council letter 2

Last month it emerged that Cornwall Council said the same, that a tenant could not appeal, and with 24 hours they publicly changed this, and despite an incredulous explanation that this was a simple oversight the Council there did apologise and rapidly correct their mistake.  Coventry needs to do the same.

Last week i reported on Liverpool City Councils ‘dirty tricks’ of trying to dissuade tenants from appealing the bedroom tax (here) and LCC responded with a mostly satisfactory response by extending the deadline for bedroom tax appeals by one month.

The one issue we can only estimate is the number of tenants who have been dissuaded from appealing the bedroom tax decision be that in Cornwall, Liverpool, Coventry and elsewhere as I have heard reports of Council staff refusing to take appeals (Liverpool, Sefton, Chesterfield and others) Councils giving out misinformation (Wiltshire, Bradford, Coventry and others) and many other tactics right across the country.

These are clearly not isolated cases of maladministration or bad practice and will lead to an increased number of appeals paradoxically.  Tribunals who have to assess whether an ‘out-of-time’ appeal, one issued over a month after the decision, have a valid reason for being out of time.

The Coventry case above is yet one more example of a Council giving the appeals tribunals strong justification for allowing out of time appeals to be heard and not simply dismissed.  Further reviews and appeals will cost each Council more money and the exact opposite of what they were trying to achieve and if this post highlights that and more tenants do seek a review and or appeal the bedroom tax decision because of this then the additional cost local councils will face is deserved and these Councils only have themselves to blame.

It emerged over the weekend that central government appears to be trying to reduce the number of appeals and reported this has cost the coalition £500 million, because of the additional costs it is facing in increased appeals too.  Yet as I outline above the incompetence of local government in seeking to deny the tenant claimants absolute right of appeal – and it matters not if these were deliberate attempts or not to deny – will see tribunals having to admit far more out of time appeals because of that local government incompetence!

Don;t you just love irony reader?

MAJOR UPDATE 7.50PM  below- As Coventry Councillor still maintain no right of appeal!!

What is listed below is a screen-grab of a Facebook conversation with Cllr David Welsh – a Labour Councillor in Coventry and, not to put too fine a point on it, a conversation in which Cllr Walsh clearly does not know what he is talking about when it comes to the bedroom tax and what appeal rights a tenant has.

This is not subject to appeal however much we disagree with it?  Oh dear Cllr Welsh the bedroom tax decision like any other Housing Benefit decision taken by your council has a full right of appeal as well as a right to ask the Council to review its decision and a right to ask the Council for a statement of reasons or more information and explanation of how it made the decision.

“What is subject to appeal is if information is wrong” True.  Yet also how the Council took the decision, how the Council decided what a bedroom is, how the Council decided how many bedrooms each property has and a whole lot more.

David Welsh This requires clarification as it is not council policy but government policy to reduce housing benefit for spare rooms and not subject to appeal to the council no matter how much we disagree with itWhat is subject to appeal is if information is wrong and deductions are being made that shouldn’t.  People affected by the bedroom tax can apply for discretionary housing payments but it will be used to protect the most vulnerable as it is only £800,000 a year. The bedroom tax is a disgusting policy and that is why I have offered to sponsor a petition against it. I support the campaign against the bedroom tax, and will do what I can to support those affected.

3 hours ago via mobile · Like

Carol Milner I’m ashamed to be living in Coventry, this needs to be cleared up soon. Of course people should be allowed to appeal if the information stated by the Council is incorrect.

2 hours ago · Like · 1

Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax It’s not council policy, but the council did send out a letter saying people could not appeal when they can. That’s misinformation.

The council were given £800K for Discretionary Housing Payments, and were told they could use up to 2.5x that amount from their reserves but chose not to.

2 hours ago · Like

David Welsh It is not misinformation, it is fact – there is no appeal to the council for the bedroom tax as it is Conservative government policy. If information held is wrong then you need to get it updated; that is what the letter is telling people. The council cannot cover everything the government has cut as there is not enough in reserves, but we are doing what we can to support people. We need a campaign that includes all groups and people against the bedroom tax, a divided opposition is what the government wants.

about an hour ago · Like

Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax All tenants have the right to appeal against a bedroom tax decision, based on a technicality if necessary – the council is incorrect.

One tenant (Bekir) is being taxed for a 34 sq ft box room (1.3m x 2.5m with an 81cm door) – should he not appeal?!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADY6o-1mYrM

Actually Cllr Welsh it is misinformation by Coventry City Council in saying a tenant cannot appeal the bedroom tax decision.  Not only that it is maladministration of the Council’s behalf and it is unlawful too.

May I suggest you check this with DWP or even the Head of Legal or Monitoring Officer at the Council.  Can I suggest you check this out with CPAG or Shelter or CAB or any Law Centre as they will tell you the same – that every claimant (the tenant) to a HB decision does have an absolute right of appeal against that decision taken by your Council who act as agents of the DWP in making such decisions.

May I also suggest you go back to your Health, Social Care and Welfare Reform Scrutiny Board (5) minutes – which you Chair – of 1st May 2013 (point 3.7) which says there are  2556 tenants affected by the bedroom tax in Coventry too.  The official figures from the DWP say there are 1030 in Coventry NE; 973 in Coventry NW and 942 in Coventry South, making a total of 2945 and not 2500.  You were saying you have done what you can to help those affected I believe?  It appears you have not even counted 389 tenants which official DWP figures say are affected. 

While looking at the same minutes please turn to 3.24 which says there are 270 households affected by the benefit cap in Coventry and ask yourself why DWP figures show they have written to 490 tenants in Coventry to say they are affected.  That is an 81% difference!

The Council is doing what it can to help those affected you say?

Finally, it was and is up to Coventry City Council to define what a bedroom is and the last point on the Facebook conversations sees your Council saying a room of 34 square feet is a bedroom!  Can I suggest you see what other Councils such as Bristol and Nottingham are saying on this and what the 1985 Housing Act says on this – that any room with a floor space of less than 50 square feet cannot be a bedroom in legislation.

I see your Council is doing what it can to help vulnerable tenants again?  Or is this a question of your Council deliberately putting out misinformation and unlawful information to dissuade these vulnerable tenants of their absolute right to appeal YOUR bedroom tax decision and thereby save the Council money?

PS Nearly forgot – can you tell me if your Council, yes the one that is doing what it can to help those affected, has put in the £1,996,608 to the DHP pot to go with the £798,643 your Council has received from central government.  If not, please explain the phrase “doing what we can” to me. Thanks

SHORT UPDATE Tuesday 21st May 2013 8am

Just spoke on BBC Radio Coventry about this and was told nobody from the Council was available – make of that what you will!

Strange how Coventry City Council has an appeal form on its website against Housing Benefit decisions like the bedroom tax yet still denies anyone has a right of appeal!

This even says: –

If you are appealing more than one month after the decision was made, you must say why your appeal has been delayed

Anyone think that the Council sending out 3000 letters saying you can’t appeal is a good enough reason? I do!

 

Further Update – Coventry City Council admit they were wrong! See http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/coventry-city-council-apologises-families-4001369

 

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12 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax- Coventry Council denies tenants a right of appeal

  1. can anybody tell me if there is a lesser head height for a bedroom, from less than 1 yard inside my bedroom the ceiling slopes down acutely from 6ft 6ins to 9ins, so where I can walk without ducking is 1yd x 12ft 6ins this is well under 50sq ft but does all the sq footage I cant walk on count as bedroom size? help

  2. There does seem to be some confusion here. Coventry is right that you cannot appeal bedroom tax reductions through the Housing Benefits appeals process. The law changed when the Social Security Tribunal Service became part of the Justice Department under Labour. There is no absolute right of appeal unless it is on a point of law. If don’t have a point of law then you will not get a hearing — at least not one that does not summarily dismiss the case straight away.

    In effect, the decision to reduce on existing claims where the claimant and the landlord have already stated the number of bedrooms to the property on a signed claim form is not likely to win on a point of law. Clearly where councils such as Leeds have embarked on a council-wide to revalue properties with the view to reduce the number of bedrooms, then that would raise a different set of legal questions. However, none of these would go through the Social Security appeals tribunals service. This would all fall under a different set of legal processes and challenges. Planning, Housing, Valuation and so on.

    You would have spend an awful lot of time first getting your bedrooms redesigned as something else, a storeroom or whatever before you could return to the council’s decision on HB. You would also need to get any such revaluation completed retrospectively. In the meantime the Council can only make a decision on the facts as legally agreed at the point of decision. If you are in desperate need of the cash to make up the shortfall in rent then you will have a long a stressful wait before matters are brought to a head. I would think you would be talking about years and not weeks.

    The Government has changed the Housing Benefit Regulations in order to enforce the under-occupation rules and as long as the decision of the local authority is legally within those rules the decision cannot be appealed. Even if it is appealed then the Tribunal should not decide against the LA. That would leave the Tribunal open for an appeal to the upper Tribunal. Which in my view the Commissioner would rule for the LA. The best you could hope for is block up the appeals system with protest appeals. This would result in those who are awaiting appeals on other matters being critically delayed.

    The Government’s argument on issues where there is a justifiable need for extra bedroom(s) is to increase and widen the scope of the Discretionary Housing Payments scheme. We all know that this fund has not been increased by anywhere enough but it places the question of refusal of additional payment and extra bedrooms under a different legal process.

    Decisions on DHP falls outside of the remit of the Tribunal Service because DHP is not a welfare benefit. Many LAs have an internal review process for DHP decisions but ultimately the best that a claimant can do is to take a decision to the local government ombudsman if they think that there is a demonstrable flaw in the administrative process.

    The Government has been shrewd in it changing the legislation in the way that it has. It has in effect removed the risk of claimants mounting appeals and it has placed individual disputes into the local authority complaints arena.

    The only way that bedroom tax can be challenged would be judicial reviews against the Government. The complexity and time consuming nature of pushing this through the various processes will daunt most people. The idea that there is a quick win to be had through the appeals process is misleading.

    While I understand and generally support the arguments that the scheme is unfair, it is equally wrong to suggest that Coventry and other Local Authorities are acting illegally in warning that these decisions cannot be appealed. It is all about setting reasonable expectations. Unfortunately moral arguments never seem to trump the legal arguments where Housing Benefit is concerned. It may seem like rough justice but that is because it is.

    1. Coventry are not saying you cannot appeal the bedroom tax reductions (the 14 or 25%) – They said you cannot appeal the bedroom tax DECISION they took which is misinformation and unlawful. They place this “You are unable to appeal against this decision” immediately after saying what information they hold re the number of bedrooms which is particularly offensive as you can appeal against how the Council took the decision which includes how they decided what a bedroom is and how many bedrooms each property has.

  3. Joe, if someone successfully argues that a room cannot be classed as a ‘bedroom’ due to the Housing Act definition, presumably you wouldn’t support them using that room for people to sleep in?

    My concern is arguing over the size of rooms may have unintended consequences.

    For example, someone who has kids that stay at the weekend. The kids may be staying in the ‘undersized bedroom’ at the moment. This facility would be lost by arguing the ‘bedroom’ is too small to be classed as a ‘bedroom’.

  4. @gliiitches, I don’t think that would happen as what a room is classified as is not the same as its possible day to day or occasional use by “the residents” and also the legislation defines maximum occupancy by also counting other rooms (sitting room, dining room) but does not define them as being bedrooms; if however you were renting out a room or using it for lodgers, then its size very much can be an issue due to the HA 2004 changes with regard to HMO’s, which I also believe could be legislation that further re-enforces the issue of the 50-70sqft bedroom as not being a “whole room” as its not possible to rent it out, and indeed I seem to recall people have been prosecuted for doing such.

    (I should mention, that its my recall that it was a <70 room; it may have been a <50 room, and there may be differences between "renting" and "lodging", I am not a lawyer)

  5. @Jonathan Wilson

    I understand your point, but I wonder if that line of arguement – ‘occasional use’ – could be seen as disingenuous? It could come across as though tenants are redefining the purpose of a living space depending on the day of the week.

    Imagine this line of arguement coming from the landlord. If a tenant has kids to stay on a weekend or a couple of nights a week then I’d like them to have a proper bedroom. What if the landlord argued “you don’t need a spare bedroom because your kids can kip in the lounge – it’s only ‘occasional use'”? I don’t think tenants would support that approach.

    I’m not sure arguing a room isn’t a bedroom, or rasing the spectre of maximum occupancy, is a long-term solution to the problems people are facing (although I understand why short term solutions are at the forefront of peoples’ minds).

  6. I totally agree gliiitches, the problem is the government is indeed arguing that parents with absent children (I hate that expression) don’t need a spare room, lord fraud said “they can sleep on camp beds” (or something very close) and as things are now with the BT councils and HA’s are indeed having to place people based not on any “reasonable requirement” ala housing acts, but instead based on the formulaic bedroom tax standards that are lower than said HA.

    In fact its technically possible to have a property classed as over crowded under the housing act, yet correctly housed under the bedroom tax because the bedroom tax assumes that 2 16’s can share a room of any size, yet the HA says a room is over occupied if its 50-70sqft. In fact the bedroom tax also says that a room smaller than 50sqft can house 2 16 year olds “as no definition of size will be given in [these] regulations.”

    The other problem with all of this, is that if a parent has been granted access to children and some of the stipulations are to do with extra bedrooms, then its possible for a parent to be denied visitation rights because they no longer have spare rooms as they have been forced to downsize to a 1 bed flat. I’m sure a Judge would not take kindly to someone saying “no I won’t provide a bedroom, that nice mr fraud, he’s a lord don’tchaknow so higher than you, said they can sleep on camp beds in the living room”

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